MIQ in Rotorua: Local MP Todd McClay demands clarity, consultation in letter to Hipkins

4:13 pm on 10 September 2021

Rotorua MP Todd McClay has written to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins for urgent clarification over what he claims is an 'imminent announcement' of more managed isolation facilities in Rotorua.

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Rotorua MP Todd McClay. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The National Party MP also said the town felt "beaten up by the government" over that and other issues, such as homelessness.

It follows vociferous cross-party opposition to the suggestion of further managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities in the tourist town, which has three MIQ hotels.

On 13 August the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which runs MIQ, confirmed it was investigating additional managed isolation facilities in a number of locations, including Rotorua.

MBIE said decisions were yet to be made and Hipkins said officials were listening carefully to concerns and they would be factored into decision-making.

McClay's letter, sent on Friday, claimed it had come to his attention the government did intend to convert more Rotorua hotels into MIQ facilities "with an announcement imminent".

"I would like you to urgently clarify the timing of this decision."

MIQ facilities in Rotorua were affecting staffing capacity at Lakes District Health Board (DHB), as well as impacting on accommodation capacity for visitors, McClay wrote.

"Other parts of New Zealand should be considered for the additional managed isolation hotels.

"Prior to the signing of any contracts with new hotels, I request that you consult directly with the Rotorua community. The views of the people of Rotorua should not be ignored."

Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting, McClay said a local club had told him hotel bookings for an event they were holding in "many months' time" had been cancelled.

"That is quite concerning and suggests to me the government is about to make an announcement around additional MIQ in Rotorua.

"The government is under pressure for more MIQ places and inevitably they always look towards Rotorua. There's not any good reason hotels cancel bookings or won't take bookings months and months ahead."

He said he preferred not to say which hotels they were.

"Between MIQ and homelessness, there are few issues that I have had as much response and engagement from the public on in the period of time I've been the local MP.

"Rotorua people are reasonable, they're more than happy to do their fair share but they're feeling beaten up by the government and the minister needs to front up and be open about his plans so people can have their say."

Ibis Hotel, currently an MIQ facility.

The Ibis Hotel in Rotorua is an MIQ facility. Photo: Rotorua Daily Post / Andrew Warner via LDR

McClay said he understood Rotorua Economic Development had previously pushed back on claims MIQ was affecting accommodation capacity, with a spokeswoman saying its data showed there was "plenty of capacity" for visitors.

However, McClay said people in MIQ still impacted the local hospitality economy as they could not go out and spend as regular visitors could, and he said it still conflicted with what he heard from would-be visitors trying to find accommodation.

"There's a large number of New Zealanders who want to come home, they have a right to do so.

"There is a need for more MIQ but it doesn't just have to be in Rotorua."

He said the pressure from overseas New Zealanders suggested to him "the minister should have consulted with the people of Rotorua weeks and weeks ago before starting conversations with hotels".

The Covid-19 response minister was invited to comment on McClay's letter.

He was also asked if an announcement on MIQ in Rotorua was indeed "imminent", whether he would clarify the timing of the decision and "consult directly" with the Rotorua community about it, as McClay had requested.

Echoing earlier statements on the issue, Hipkins said the government was "extremely grateful" for Rotorua's ongoing support playing a "vital role in the fight against Covid-19".

He said officials were continuing to "listen carefully to concerns raised" and they would be "factored into decision-making".

In a report to the Lakes DHB meeting on Friday, chief executive Nick Saville-Wood said although there had been "suggestions" Rotorua continued to be considered for additional facilities, "no official communication has been received in this regard to date".

"Our current three facilities continue to operate well. Over the last two weeks, there has been a reduction in guest numbers in all three MIQs with two of them only being 50 percent occupied."

That was expected to change in the near future, his report said.

Lakes District Health Board chief executive Nick Saville-Wood

Lakes DHB chief executive Nick Saville-Wood. Photo: Rotorua Daily Post / Andrew Warner via LDR

In a statement to Local Democracy Reporting on Thursday, Saville-Wood said the district health board had been consulted by MBIE.

He said the district health board had written to the MBIE chief executive re-stating its concerns, which were raised at its August board meeting.

"This discussion noted the considerable pressures upon the DHB currently, with the staffing of the three existing MIQs a factor."

On Thursday Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi said a Te Pāti Māori petition opposing more managed isolation facilities in Rotorua had reached the 2000 signature mark, with a goal of 5000.

He said he expected a petition that size should convey the message to the government clearly.

Waititi said he supported more facilities for New Zealanders wanting to return home but it should be elsewhere, such as Queenstown.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick has also previously expressed opposition to more MIQ facilities in Rotorua, as has Labour MP based in Rotorua Tāmati Coffey.

Grounded Kiwis, an advocacy group for New Zealanders wishing to book spots in managed isolation, was approached for comment.

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